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#16 - METS Special Issue

More Autonomy for Superyachts


Mikhail S. Vorontsov superyacht (Courtesy of YachtCharterFleet)

Superyachts featuring more and more autonomous functions is a hot topic at this year’s METS, but challenges remain.


Are superyachts plotting a course toward full autonomy? Kongsberg Maritime sales manager Roger Trinterud doesn’t think so. “Generally, I think it’s fair to say that people want to be served by people. In the sense of autonomous meaning unmanned, I don’t think we’ll see an autonomous superyacht in the near future,” he told NauticExpo e-magazine.

“But functions derived from the development of autonomy can be used in yachts to make them more energy efficient and safer. If the bridge is manned, we can start implementing autonomous functions right now, as they will be supplements to the captain, not a replacement,” he added.

Autonomous functions will be supplements to the captain, not a replacement.

“For example, we can install sensor fusion—using cameras and lasers to enhance situation awareness for navigators. We can deploy automatic anti-collision systems, even automatic docking.”

Technology to monitor the health of onboard equipment already exists. Trinterud explained that temperature and pressure sensors can be linked to acoustic/vibration sensors, all monitored by software that detects abnormal equipment behavior.

“The missing and difficult part is to make an engine/brain that understands the environment. It needs to have the correct behavior patterns programmed so that it can take the same decisions as a captain/navigator would.

“This will need a lot of testing, simulations and real-life demonstrations to first convince flag states, then the IMO. When performance, safety, and security have been proved locally, then IMO will allow it internationally.”

Staying in Touch

Connectivity is a key element, as Gert-Jan Panken, Inmarsat Maritime’s sales vice-president noted. “The superyacht market has distinct Satcom needs due to its seasonal nature. Owners need the freedom to adjust subscription plans enabling them to consume high bandwidth in peak periods, then switch to standby in the off-season.”

As a result, Inmarsat recently introduced a flexible version of its commercial Fleet Xpress global VSAT service for superyachts. This month, its e3 Systems partner announced the signing of its first subscriber, Beagle Star V.

Beagle Star V, the first superyacht with Fleet Xpress (Courtesy of Inmarsat)

Under the plan, owners can upgrade or downgrade their usage quickly, factoring in temporary standby. “Voice and video calls, entertainment and social media needs aboard superyachts can vary widely during the season,” Panken added. “Fleet Xpress also separates customers’ data and voice calls so that data subscriptions are not affected by voice calls. It’s a whole new level of connectivity and flexibility for the superyacht market.”

Keeping Data Safe

Which brings us to the need for cybersecurity. Dr. Jostein Jensen, vice president for cybersecurity and data management at Kongsberg Digital, believes risk awareness is key. “There is low cybersecurity awareness within the industry. As a result, questions that need answers include: How will the crew react to a cybersecurity breach? Are they trained? Do they have the tools to detect and respond to an attack before it’s too late?

Inmarsat is already taking part in the unmanned ships initiative launched by Rolls-Royce (Courtesy of Rolls-Royce)

“If we talk about scenarios with autonomy involved, then the cybersecurity mindset must shift from a confidentiality perspective to an integrity perspective. We must still make sure data is only available to authorized personnel. But if data is calculated in an onshore environment, then sent to a vessel’s automation system to perform some action, then we need to be certain the data has not been manipulated.”

According to Jensen, Kongsberg initiatives to reduce risks include secure, end-to-end connections between vessels and onshore facilities, along with robust automation systems that are “properly segmented from the internet.”

“We believe in collaboration,” he added. “The key to finding good solutions is to work closely with classification societies and customers, sharing knowledge and experience.”

Read more about Autonomous vessels in our special issue #8:

About the Author

Formerly editor-in-chief of IHS Maritime, Tony Slinn is an independent maritime journalist.

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